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In Beijing, Yellen set to meet with China's premier and economic officials


Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is the second U.S. Cabinet official to visit Beijing in a month. On the heels of a trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Yellen has an agenda that includes meetings with China's new premier and other top officials who have a hand in the economy.


The last time a U.S. Treasury secretary visited China, Washington and Beijing were in a trade war. Since then, the trade relationship is even more strained. So can the U.S. and China compete while they also cooperate?

SCHMITZ: NPR's international correspondent Emily Feng has been following all of this from Taiwan. Good morning, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: So what does Yellen hope to achieve with this trip, and what's she up against?

FENG: Well, she's up against a lot. And I'm having a little bit of deja vu, actually, because I started reporting on China for NPR in 2019. And as you mentioned, the trade war was in its most intense period at that point.


FENG: But all the issues that Yellen is up against are from that time period. And Chad P. Bown has been tracking those tariffs that were imposed during that trade war. He's a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. And almost four years later, as Yellen lands in China today, he says this.

CHAD P BOWN: The U.S.-China trade relationship is basically unchanged. None of the tariffs that were imposed or that were in place as of when the - President Trump's Phase One agreement went into effect, none of those have been removed.

FENG: That's because the Biden administration chose to keep these 25% tariffs on Chinese goods coming to the U.S. and vice versa. And so Yellen faces all these old challenges. And on top of that, you have new sources of friction - for example, American export controls to prevent China from getting certain advanced semiconductor technology. And so Bown says Yellen needs to talk about not just trade imbalances now with China, but also national security concerns.

BOWN: When President Trump was conducting his trade war, it seemed to just be all about the U.S.-China economic relationship in trade. Now it's not. Now it's about geopolitical conflict, military conflict, potentially Taiwan, Hong Kong.

SCHMITZ: Wow. There are so many things that the two sides disagree on. What can the U.S. and China agree on?

FENG: Well, at least they both say they want to talk. But again, American officials are really downplaying expectations for her trip. They say that this is just to maintain contact so the two sides understand each other, even if they disagree with each other. Yellen's also in China this week to try to convince China that these export controls that China hates - the fact that U.S. companies are moving some of their supply chains away from China - this is being done to protect U.S. interests, just as China does things to protect its interests that the U.S. also doesn't like. And she's trying to convince China that this is not meant to completely decouple the two economies. And, in fact, the two countries have a lot to cooperate on - for example, combating climate change and addressing global debt.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. And do we have any idea whether she can make any headway on those objectives?

FENG: That's the question. Really, there's only so much she can do, because right now, if you're a foreign business in China, the trends are pretty worrying. China's passed these new laws that can let them sanction foreign companies. There are new data control laws that make it really hard for companies to operate even there. Add to that there's a new counterespionage law passed this year that's so broad American businesses are genuinely concerned that their normal activities could get them accused of being spies.

SCHMITZ: Wow. NPR's Emily Feng in Taipei, thank you so much.

FENG: Thanks, Rob. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.